Raheel Raza Nov 4, 2012

Last night Rumi was remembered with love, respect, wisdom, sacred music, whirling, poetry, laughter and tears. It was a sublime event presented by The Inner Garden and conducted by a group of dedicated Rumi-lovers. The venue, Eastminster United Church on Danforth, was the ideal place with an ambience that was palpable. The acoustics were great as well.

Garo Altinian, a long-time friend and delightful musician, singer and composer had kindly saved two seats for me, right in the front row. What else could one want but to be a few feet away from Coleman Barks as he recited Rumi poetry in his wonderful voice? He had a stroke recently, but the ease with which he recited showed he was healed, both in and out. He met me with warmth and remembered that I had introduced him last time he came to Toronto. To truly appreciate Coleman Bark’s love of Rumi, one has to be close enough to see the twinkle in his eyes, the smile on his face, the movement of his hands and the way he closes his eyes when he remembers Rumi. Needless to say, he brings Rumi alive for us. There was pin drop silence as he spoke and sometimes sang the lines, bashfully acknowledging that since his stroke he likes to sing some of the couplets. He was accompanied by the very talented Anne Bourne on Cello. To my untrained ear, after the Ney, the cello has a sound that is closest to pain, anguish, calling and Anne’s vocals did justice to Coleman’s voice. At times, he stopped struck by her voice as were the rest of us.

It was a beautifully organized event, with original music composed by Garo and presented by his group of extremely talented singers and musicians. I have heard Garo before as we have sat through sacred music fests, but this is his best and he has a CD to prove this. The young Dervishes who whirled did it with such dedication that they had the audience in awe. Once again we were blessed to be close and see their ecstatic faces as they turned. Leslie Mezei is an institution unto himself and handled the MC position with his usual grace and dignity, quipping when the mike was not working “a bit of silent meditation my friends.”

For me personally there was another huge dimension to this evening – a sort of personal awakening. As I entered the hall, I was warmly greeted by many people whose paths have crossed with me over the past decade. There were hugs, handshakes and warm welcomes. It came as a pleasant surprise because there were some whose faces I remembered but names took a while to come back to me (It’s the ageing thing J) As I met and greeted these friends, I went back in time.

There was Baba Murat Coskun, looking older but elegant still. I had started going to his Dergah about 10 years ago and later invited him to bring his zikr to my events. His son David was a young child at that time. Later David whirled for my Spirit of the East event in Mississauga. I also met Chander Khanna who has shared many events with me with his Hindu wisdom and insights. He recalled our first Sufi zikr event, one which was so special that those who attended still say “but that was magical and special!” I received warm hugs from Father Terry Gallager (my Irish counterpart) and Leslie Mezei, both who have consistently come to my events and forums. There were artists who have come and performed with no questions asked and helpers too. There were others who for various reasons, I’ve not seen for years, but time fell away as we met and exchanged notes on our lives. There were no recriminations and regrets – only a sincere pleasure at seeing each other again.

So where am I going with this? Well many times in the past years interviewers and reporters ask the question “and how does your community deal with this?” or “what is the reaction of your community?”  There is this unspoken idea that the community they are referring to is only the Muslim community when there is a Muslim issue and the Pakistani community because I am from that country.

However, it took me a second to realise last night that for me, community are the people I met here. The people I respect, who I have worked with, those who respect me in return, the ones who still greet me with affection after a decade, the ones who I interact on a daily or weekly basis, the ones who understand who I am and what I do – even if they don’t follow the same path. They are not Muslim or Pakistani but have always been there for me with support and care and happy to pick up where we left off when we last met.

Essentially this is my community and I feel blessed that I connected with them again. Thank you my friends – you made Remembering Rumi a very special day for me.